White surges into spotlight

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Greg White stocked shelves at Best Buy last year. Now he's Tampa Bay's top pass rusher. How? He never gave up. Plus, he's beginning to understand the defensive scheme and what it takes to stay in the NFL. Find out more in this premium feature.

Greg White does not play like a man who had to stock shelves, deliver water and deliver pizza to make ends meet.

Lately, he's played like a man that never should have had to struggle like that to get a NFL job.

This season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have sought at least one player to come in and be dominant on the pass rush. Lately, White — the most unlikely of suspects — has done it.

Since the bye week, White has notched 5 ½ sacks and 6 forced fumbles in four games. Even his position coach, Larry Coyer, was unaware that White had been that productive.

"I hadn't thought about that, but he's had a pretty good run, huh?" Coyer said.

Before the bye week in early November, White produced solid numbers, considering he was basically a 28-year old rookie (he's listed as a first-year player, a designation given to players who have less than a year of NFL experience but are not true rookies). He had 2 ½ sacks in nine games and settled into a role as a pass-rush specialist.

He now leads the team in sacks (8) and forced fumbles (6). With two more sacks White can join a rare group of players that have recorded 10 or more sacks in a season in Tampa Bay, including Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Hall-of-Famer Lee Roy Selmon.

"It's crossed my mind," White said. "I'm looking forward to hopefully getting there."

A month ago, both head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin challenged the defensive line to get a better pass rush on the opposing quarterback.

White got the message.

"Yeah, when I came off the bye and I wasn't doing anything and I said to myself, ‘Man, I miss football,'" White said. "Really, I couldn't wait to get back. When we got to the game I was like, ‘Man, I'm ready to get back in it.'"

Wouldn't you after five years of waiting for your big break? White was a seventh-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2002, and after that he bounced around from team to team and practice squad to practice squad trying to make a roster. Along the way, he worked every odd job he could find in his native New Jersey, including early-morning runs into New York City to deliver Poland Springs water.

White didn't have a choice. The Minnesota product had a family to support.

"Coming from where I was at, I thought I was going to have it made and I hit bottom," White said. "To come back up slowly like I have gives you appreciation for it and I'm trying to savor this."

White took a gamble on the Arena Football League and joined the Orlando Predators in 2006, where he became head coach Jay Gruden's top pass rusher. He set a league record 15 sacks in 2007, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors just a few months after stocking shelves at Best Buy in Orlando.

The gamble paid off. Jay told his brother, Jon, about White and the Buccaneers invited White to training camp in August. White had been to plenty of training camps, but he had never done it after playing a full season in the air conditioning of the AFL.

Coyer believes that might have stunted White's development early this season.

"I think that was a tough thing for him," Coyer said. "He hadn't conditioned himself for what it takes here. I sense that he's a different man mentally now."

And physically. White said he's been hitting the treadmill and doing extra conditioning after practice twice a week. The athletic end (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) is so limber, despite his frame, that he can do a standing backflip.

"I have to compete with these guys, steady Pro bowlers, and I need that edge," White said.

On the edge of the Buccaneers' four-man rush White is becoming dangerous. It started in Atlanta where he sacked Byron Leftwich twice and forced two fumbles. He did it again the following week to Jason Campbell and Washington. After a break against New Orleans where he only had one tackle, White had 2 ½ sacks and two more forced fumbles.

And his speed rush is becoming a signature move.

White showed that off against Texans left tackle Ephraim Salaam last Sunday. White burst off the line, gained position over Salaam's left shoulder and lowered his own left shoulder into the lineman to gain position and force a fumble from quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

Most of White's sacks and forced fumbles have been almost carbon-copies of the same type of rush.

"That's his move," Bucs defensive tackle Jovan Haye said. "Normally you get wide and key on their shoulder. It's the get-off, you know, you have to get on top of him before he kicks back. By the time Greg is on him all he has to do is drop his shoulder. The quarterback's drop always falls into that drop."

Coyer said White's impressive month stems from a mental understanding of his role defensively, combining his speed with better leverage and better conditioning.

"It's hard work and we've been fortunate, I'll be honest," Coyer said. "All of those plays have been great effort plays and hopefully he'll keep making them. He's working his butt off and he's done some tough stuff."

It's probably not any tougher than White's journey to get here.

"I can't ask for much more. I'm happy to be here," White said.

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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.

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